Personal empowerment (or power) refers to the ability to control your own destiny. An intriguing aspect of personal empowerment is that how much we actually achieve is almost always a fraction of our potential.
What is Personal Empowerment?
Personal empowerment is an attitude or a healthy psychological state of mind as much as anything else. You can retain a high level of personal empowerment even if other aspects of self determination are take away.
Nelson Mandela remained self empowered during his many years of captivity, emerging ready to shape his country’s future.
Personal empowerment is based on competence, vision, positive personal qualities, and service. When externalized it is likely to be more generous, creative and humane than other forms of power.
Personal empowerment is built by personal development. It comes from developing strength, confidence, and competence. It is self-assertion and a natural, healthy striving for love, satisfaction and meaning in one’s interpersonal world.
This type of power represents a movement toward self-realization and transcendent goals in life. Its primary aim is mastery of self, not others. It’s a kind of spirituality.
Commitment to Action
Personally empowered people get things done when they want to. If they establish a worthwhile goal and commit to it, they are able to take action and follow through until it is achieved.
The ability to commit to action is a good test of personal empowerment. You have personal empowerment if you naturally accept responsibility for what is within your control.
Consider someone with an addiction problem, say smoking. If the smoker believes smoking is bad for them and, if they are personally empowered, they will stop. That is because smoking and other addictions are within one’s own control.
How many smokers would keep smoking if you told them that, with 100% certainty, they will contract lung cancer next time they light up? Very few, one would imagine. Not smoking is a choice a person can make at any time. Being empowered let’s you make that choice more easily.
Case Study: Student Empowerment
Students are unlikely to learn personal empowerment from attending classes, though empowerment helps achieve a highly motivated state (see these psychology student essays).
Student empowerment comes from personal growth and understanding that you have choices. Ironically, education systems encourage students to give up personal responsibility more than they encourage students to accept it.
Students generally do better by following the course syllabus and fitting in with the teacher’s style. It’s hard to do this while committing to personal development.
Getting high grades comes, to some degree, at the expense of pursuing your own intellectual interests. The “ideal student” is a conformist, doing the prescribed tasks rather the most beneficial learning activities for his or her self.
But becoming empowered, which can be achieved through cognitive behaviour therapy, is vital for students who want to have successful careers (and personal lives). The great leaders and innovators are empowered. Graduates with a disempowered mindset are on a much longer and more difficult path to reaching their potential.
Negative Consequences of Being Disempowered
At some stages of our life, we may become or feel disempowered for external reasons. By definition, they are forces that we feel are beyond our control. Some examples are workplace bullying or micromanagement, being in a regimented environment such as a boarding school, and being left out of a social group.
Experiencing an overwhelming loss of autonomy feels dreadful. It’s in the nature of humans, and other creatures, to desperately want to leave that state and regain control over one’s destiny again.
Sadly, depression and suicide are too often the outcome from severe disempowerment. We see this in the high rates of suicide among middle-aged men who have experienced divorce. Not only do they often involuntarily lose custody of the children they love, they also suffer financially through divorce settlements, alimony and child support.
Regaining a feeling of being empowered is vital to achieving a healthy state of mind and feeling that your life has meaning and purpose. If you ever go through dark times, it’s important to focus on those things, however small they may seem at the time, over which you have control.